Local Opinion Editorials

Oscar Nominees In Theaters Or At Home ~ At The Movies With Kasey

The close of awards season brings a peculiar moment with few good new movies, but award-winners getting rereleased or hitting streaming platforms. I write from the week before the Academy Awards, but the paper will not come out until afterward, so I am not making predictions about wins. Instead, I want to celebrate some incredible films nominated this year. The Oscars often focus on bleak stories or how much an actor is willing to suffer to win. Although this year’s nominees include harrowing depictions of war, such as the stunning documentary 20 Days in Mariupol (available from Frontline PBS) and Oppenheimer, many stories take a lighter look at the human condition.

In theaters or on demand, American Fiction features Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), an author and academic whose novels demonstrate excellence but do not sell well. Frustrated with the publishing industry pandering to stereotypes about Black people, he writes a book leaning into market demands and is surprised when his agent (John Ortiz) sells it for seven figures. Meanwhile, Monk negotiates with his siblings, Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) and Clifford (Sterling K. Brown), about the care of their mother (Leslie Uggams).

Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay, American Fiction balances its biting critique of literary trends with a complex and funny story of a family in crisis. As brothers, Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown play an odd couple, and their bittersweet interactions dovetail with Monk’s professional struggles. Erika Alexander and Myra Lucretia Taylor, as Monk’s love interest and his family’s housekeeper/friend, tenderly represent the audience’s outsider perspective. Issa Rae gives a biting performance as a bestselling author who deals with similar problems to Monk.

The film’s ending offers meta-commentary on endings and adaptations but perhaps leaves too many threads open. Still, I loved this movie and its absurd, comic take on what makes a book a “Black book.”

American Fiction was written and directed by Cord Jefferson, based on Erasure by Percival Everett. It runs 117 minutes and is rated R.

On Netflix, Nyad depicts marathon swimmer Diana Nyad’s (Annette Benning) attempts to swim from Cuba to Key West in her sixties, hoping to complete a lifelong dream with her best friend/coach, Bonnie (Jodie Foster).

Annette Benning and Jodie Foster are both nominated in acting categories, and it is no wonder, given the richness of the screenplay and the steady beauty of their performances. Nyad provides an intriguing and inspiring sports story, based on true events, but the real heart of the film is the deep friendship between the two women. With Rhys Ifans offering a touching depiction of their navigator, John, the film allows the characters to develop through challenges while portraying Diana’s swims with creative techniques that break up the monotony of such a long journey. It’s a beautiful and engrossing film.

Nyad was written by Julia Cox and directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. It runs 121 minutes and is rated PG-13

Available on demand, Anatomy of a Fall (Anatomie d’une chute) takes a close look at the death of a man (Samuel Theis) as authorities unpack the troubled relationship between him and his wife, Sandra (Sandra Hüller), to determine if his fall was suicide or murder, with the couple’s blind son, Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner), as the only witness.

Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Leading Actress, Original Screenplay, and Achievement in Editing (Laurent Sénéchal), Anatomy of a Fall quietly builds suspense and ambivalence about the central mystery, using music to convey unspoken emotions. Sandra Hüller and Swann Arlaud, who plays her lawyer, counter each other well, drawing out the conflict in her marriage and the difficulty of the legal case. Milo Machado-Graner portrays Daniel with deep strength and sadness. I mean it—there should be an Oscar category for non-human animals. Messi, who plays Daniel’s service dog, Snoop, also gives a haunting performance. I was left with doubts about the resolution but moved by the emotional volume of the story and the work the actors did to bring it to life.

Anatomy of a Fall was written by Arthur Harari and Justine Treit, who directed. It runs 151 minutes and is rated R.

Finally, in theaters and on Hulu, Poor Things tells the story of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a young woman reanimated by an unconventional scientist (Willem Dafoe). After a sexual awakening, she is engaged to his assistant (Ramy Youssef), but escapes with the scoundrel Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), taking her on a journey of self-discovery.

Nominated for eleven Oscars, including Best Picture and acting nods for Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo, Poor Things is racy and frank about sex, but also weirdly funny. Stone’s performance leans bravely into Bella’s odd history and behavior. The story draws inspiration from Frankenstein but works cleverly with a woman unaware of social norms and how they would constrain her, “monster” or not. The cinematography, prominent use of a fisheye lens, makeup, and costume design vividly approximate the Victorian Era, but with whimsical, gorgeous fantasy elements. It’s an uncomfortable, beautiful story, at turns shocking and sweet. I must read the book now.

Poor Things was written by Tony McNamara and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. It runs 141 minutes and is rated R.

Kasey Butcher

Kasey Butcher

She is proud to be a Ft. Wayne native, a graduate of Homestead HS, Ball State University & Miami University. She became involved with journalism editor-in-chief for her high school magazine. She authors the "At The Movies with Kasey Butcher" review. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer